Many people see a person who focuses on clothes as superficial. While it is true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, there may be some scientific merit behind that old proverb, “Clothes make the man.” Clothes may not determine who you are, but they can affect the way you think.
In 2012, psychologists Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam experimented with the impact of clothing on attention. In the experiment, they gave participants a white coat. They told some that the coat was a doctor’s coat and others that it was a painter’s coat. Those in the “doctor’s coat” experienced increased attention when performing tasks.
What people wore—or at least their perception of what they wore—affected how they thought and felt in a moment. Clothing’s impact on psychology has several implications for our day-to-day lives.
If you have ever been in a play, you know the power of a costume. For the first months of rehearsal, you must pretend you’re a queen or a businessman. But when dress rehearsals begin, the crown makes you feel regal, and the suit, powerful. In our regular lives, the outfits we wear can act as a social costume that enables us to see ourselves in a particular role.
We see this in the psychology of casual Fridays. One study found that employees who dressed in business suits felt more capable of performing professional tasks such as leading a board meeting. But when employees could dress casually, they felt more able to socialize with each other. The clothes signaled a shift in the employees’ role, which helped them take on the associated challenges.
We can use this role shift as a tool to motivate us to do tasks we wouldn’t do otherwise. Take the business clothing example again. Many of us have discovered that working at home makes motivation and focus more challenging. Part of the reason is that working in our PJs puts our minds in the relaxation role rather than the work role.
Putting on a pair of slacks or a skirt may be just the trick to get us into a working frame of mind. We can apply this same idea to motivate ourselves to exercise by putting on gym clothes, to do chores by putting on work clothes, or to cook by putting on an apron.
Self-Expression and Image
It’s possible to look at how clothing impacts psychology as a way we cow ourselves into conforming to society’s dictates, but it doesn’t have to be. When we create a personal style, we establish our own role and then step into it.
If you want to become a bold and confident person, choose clothes that make you feel that way, and your mind will already begin to step into that role. Or if you want to feel comfortable in your own skin, wear clothes that make you happy. Clothes may not make the man, but clothes can be his greatest form of expression.